For the Love of Grilled Cheese

Brooklyn Dairy Queen Kajal Russell, one of 13 Green
County Dairy Queens, is one of the most awesome
young women you’ll ever meet. Plus, she likes cheese.
You go, girl!

What makes thousands of people gather in a park pavilion on a chilly April day in Wisconsin? Cheese, of course. And in this case, hot cheese. Grilled cheese, to be exact. Every year, the Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship comes to Dodgeville with the noble mission of determining who makes the best grilled cheese in America.

Contestants this year came from all over the country, including one guy from California who wore a Wisconsin flag as a superhero cape and brought a van of groupies and a bin of trophies from previous grilled cheese contest wins. He lined up his hardware in front of his frying pan to intimidate the competition, and indeed did win over more groupies amid cheers of “rattlesnake sausage” (yeah, I don’t know what that means, either), but it was one of our own who took Best in Show for the second year in row. So, suck it, Mr. California (and I mean that in the nicest Midwestern way possible).

Best in Show went to Beth Crave, representing Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo, Wisconsin. Beth used a variety of cheeses from different Wisconsin companies in her innovative and tasty grilled cheeses. She entered all four different categories: classic, classic plus one, classic plus extras and dessert. I was lucky enough to be one of the judges for the professional competition this year, and I can tell you her sandwiches were the only ones that routinely earned perfect or near-perfect scores. They were also the only sandwiches that I wrapped up in a napkin to eat the rest later. It’s official: this gal knows her grilled cheese.

In fact, my favorite grilled cheese of the whole day (and it was a six-hour day of judging) was Beth’s “Sunrise Surprise,” featuring Madison Sourdough bread layered with a blend of Saxon Creamery Snowfields and Emmi Roth Butterkase, piled high with smoked turkey, candied bacon, silvered avocado and farm fresh hard boiled eggs. It was grilled to perfection using Nordic Creamery Cultured Butter with Sea Salt. Oh yeah, baby.

Here’s a picture of the sandwich (my apologies for the bite out of it – this is what judging looks like):

And here’s a picture of the whole sandwich. Each sandwich was judged on presentation, taste and style, with a perfect score = 40. Guess how many points I gave this sandwich? You guessed it: 40.

Every year, event coordinator Matt Staver and his amazing team of volunteers improve the event to draw a bigger crowd of both contestants and attendees. This year, there had to be at least 1,000 people in the crowd, and every heat for the amateur categories was close to full. The event was founded five years ago by the late Lorin Toepper, a culinary instructor at Madison College and president of the Iowa County Area Economic Development Corp. Today, many of the volunteer judges for the professional division come from Madison College’s culinary arts program.

One of the best moments of the day was when a sweet lady named Shirley Ritter won the amateur Classic Plus Extras category. Emcee extraordinaire Kyle Cherek (of Wisconsin Foodie fame) had been paging Shirley to no avail. Suddenly, Shirley appeared from the crowd, and when Kyle handed her the first place trophy, she nearly had a stroke and burst into tears. Because that’s what winning a grilled cheese contest can do, folks: move you to tears.

Shirley Ritter accepts the first place trophy from Emcee Kyle Cherek and Molly
Hendrickson, Iowa County Fairest of the Fair.

Keeping the event on a steady beat were the fabulous musicians from Point Five, a Mineral Point band featuring Cheesemaker Andy Hatch on mandolin. Their Americana music was a perfect fit for an event celebrating an iconic American food.

Point Five band from Mineral Point. And yes, that’s Cheesemaker Andy Hatch
from Uplands Cheese smiling at me while playing the mandolin.

For all of her efforts on Saturday, Best in Show winner Beth Crave won a super cool hand-made wooden chest that was actually a beer cooler with built in speakers. Fellow judge and Master Cheesemaker Chris Roelli told me he thought it would look great in his garage, but I have a feeling Beth is keeping it.

Here’s a full list of winners from the 2016 Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship. Congratulations to all!

Amateur Classic (any type of bread,  real Wisconsin butter, and only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese. No additional ingredients)

First Place: Ann Thompson, Dodgeville, WI
Second Place: William Koepcke, Verona, WI
Third Place: Matthew LaForest, Los Angeles, CA

Amateur Classic Plus One (a savory – as opposed to sweet – sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese, plus one additional ingredient. The interior ingredients must be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Brenda Plantino, Delavan, WI
Second Place: Roberta Jake, Elgin, IL
Third Place: Robert Pappas, WI

Amateur Classic Plus Extras (a savory – as opposed to sweet – sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese – multiple cheeses accepted – plus unlimited additional ingredients.  However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Shirley Ritter, Highland, WI
Second Place: Matthew LaForest, Los Angeles, CA
Third Place: Ann Thompson, Dodgeville, WI

Amateur Dessert (any kind of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese – multiple cheeses accepted – plus additional ingredients to create an overall sweet – as opposed to savory – flavor that would be best served as a “dessert” grilled cheese sandwich. However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Cara Wallner, Menomonee Falls, WI
Second Place: Kimmy Cleary & Morgan Weirich, Fennimore, WI
Third Place: Brenda Plantino, Delavan, WI

Youth Chefs (A special heat for competitors aged 12-17, all prepared a sandwich in the category of their choosing and were accompanied by an adult during the competition)

First Place: Olvera Rocio
Second Place: Joey Curtis
Third Place: Jalene Pierick

Professional Classic (any type of bread, real Wisconsin butter, and only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese. No additional ingredients)

First Place: Zach Washa, Carr Valley Cheese, Highland, WI
Second Place: Beth Crave, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
Third Place: Anna Thomas Bates, Landmark, Creamery, Albany WI

Professional Classic Plus One (a savory – as opposed to sweet – sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, only one kind of real Wisconsin cheese, plus one additional ingredient. The interior ingredients must be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Beth Crave, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
Second Place: Thomas Heller, Monks Bar and Grill, Wisconsin Dells, WI
Third Place: Amy Pohle, The Lunch Bus, Platteville, WI

Professional Classic Plus Extras (a savory – as opposed to sweet – sandwich with any type of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese – multiple cheeses accepted – plus unlimited additional ingredients. However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Beth Crave, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Waterloo, WI
Second Place: Alyssa Marie, Dodgeville, WI
Third Place: Joseph Gustafson, Cuba City, WI

Professional Dessert (any kind of bread, a grilling aid that includes butter, margarine, or plain or flavored oils, real Wisconsin cheese – multiple cheeses accepted – plus additional ingredients to create an overall sweet – as opposed to savory – flavor that would be best served as a “dessert” grilled cheese sandwich. However, the interior ingredients must still be at least 60% cheese)

First Place: Alyssa Marie, Dodgeville, WI
Second Place: Joseph Gustafson, Cuba City, WI
Third Place: Zach Washa, Carr Valley Cheese, Highland, WI

Congratulations to all!!

New Wisconsin Cheeses Debut at 2015 ACS

Cheese Camp for cheeseheads is in full swing this week at the annual American Cheese Society conference in Providence, Rhode Island, where more than 1,000 cheese folk have gathered to celebrate a theme of Craft, Creativity and Community.

And, like usual, it takes me traveling halfway across the country to discover a half dozen new Wisconsin cheeses I never knew existed, many of which made their official debut to the world at tonight’s Meet the Cheesemaker event.

1. First up: a yet-to-be-named cheese from Landmark Creamery made in a Reblochon style – an oooey, gooey, stinky French cheese we Americans can’t get in the United States because it’s made from raw milk and aged less than 60 days. At six weeks old, the newbie pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from cheesemaker Anna Landmark and her sales partner, Anna Thomas Bates, is washed in mead from Bos Meadery in Madison, Wis.

“We washed batches in brine, mead and nut brown beer, and liked the mead wash the best. It adds a touch of sweetness that was missing in the others, particularly near the rind,” Landmark says. She’s right – her new cheese is stinky, sticky and meaty in true washed-rind form, with just enough tangy bite near the finish to make it particular interesting without being overly funky. Look for this new cheese on the retail market in a few months.

2. Buried in the midst of a mountain of Grand Cru at the Roth Cheese table tonight was a construction-orange wheel of aged cheese with no name tag and zero marketing materials. Turns out the cheese is based on an aged Mimolette and will be named Prairie Sunset. Aged six months, the cheese is riddled with eyes and boasts a crumbly texture with a creamy mouthfeel. No word yet on what date the cheese will be released to retail – stay tuned!

3. From our friends in Brooten, Minnesota (who I’ve officially adopted as close-enough-to-Wisconsinites), Alise and Lucas Sjostrom of Redhead Creamery debuted their new Little Lucy  tonight. Made in a small, tall 4-ounce top hat, and aged six weeks, this adorable little brie is – say it with me – amazing. It’s the perfect size to consume in one sitting with a baguette and glass of champagne.

“There are three types of people in Minnesota,” Lucas explains, in what would have been a Fargo-movie-worthy “up nort” drawl if it hadn’t been cultured up a bit from the couple’s spending a few years living in Vermont and Wisconsin. “You’ve got cheese curd people. You’ve got aged cheddar people. And you’ve got brie people. So those are the three cheeses we make.”

Little Lucy is, of course, named for the Sjostrom’s daughter, aged 2-1/2. Early indications lean toward her being a redhead like her mama. The little brie joins Lucky Linda in the Redhead Creamery line-up. Named for Alise’s mom, Lucky Linda is an aged cheddar crafted in two ways: first, as a clothbound cheddar, and, second with a natural rind. Alise says so far, the clothbound is more popular, so she will likely be making more wheels in that style as time goes on. All cheeses are produced and aged on the family farm in Brooten.

4.  Because there are only a handful of cheese plants in Minnesota, and because all seven of them are just so darn nice, I’m including a second “close enough to Wisconsin” company in this line-up: The Lone Grazer Creamery, a brand new urban cheese factory in northeast Minneapolis. Cheesemaker Rueben Nilsson, former cheesemaker at Caves of Faribault; and Sales Director Seamus Folliard, a former English teacher who discovered his calling in sales, first at 2 Gingers Whiskey, and now in cheese, debuted two cheeses tonight: Hansom Cab and Grazier’s Edge.

Hansom Cab is 4-inch disc of stinky goodness, washed in the aforementioned Irish 2 Gingers Whiskey and smoky Lapsang Souchong tea. The result is a milky, meaty cheese with grassy notes of asparagus. Grazier’s Edge, meanwhile, is an 11-inch, taller wheel, washed with St. Paul’s own 11 Wells Rye Whiskey. It is milder, more buttery, with an open texture and melt-in-your-mouth consistency.

Milk for both cheeses comes from two nearby dairies, both of which pasture their cows: Sunrise Meadow in Cokato, Minn., which milks 25 Brown Swiss and Milking Shorthorns, and Stengard Dairy, near Wadena, Minn., which milks Swedish Reds and Milking Shorthorns. The result is a unique milk profile with distinct grassy notes that Nilsson expertly turns into two fabulous cheeses.

5. Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, the folks at LaClare Farms tonight debuted their new goat’s milk yogurt in plain, vanilla, strawberry and blueberry. The yogurt has just started production, with no date set yet for a retail launch, other than “soon,” says farm matriarch Clara Hedrich. Prototype cups sport attractive arty labels, and the yogurt will be available in 6-ounce and 24-ounce sizes. The yogurt has a richer consistency than many goat yogurts, with a crisp, clean flavor.

6. Klondike Cheese in Monroe is seeing success with their new Adelphos Greek Yogurt Dips, which I tried for the first time tonight. The savory dips are made with the company’s Odyssey Greek Yogurt and are available in four flavors: Cucumber Garlic, Southwest, Red & Green Bell Pepper and French Onion. My favorite was the French Onion, which cheesemaker and yogurt maker Adam Buholzer helpfully explained has 25 percent less sodium, 50 percent less fat, 50 percent less cholesterol and three times the protein as a conventional French Onion dip. That’s good – this way I won’t feel so guilty when I consume the entire 12-oz. container in one sitting.

Last but not least, a hearty shout-out to two new products from Wisconsin cheesemakers: Marieke Gouda Truffle, which debuted in April, and Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Curds, because in Wisconsin, we never have enough squeaky curd. Thanks to all of these fine folks for doing cheeseheads proud.

All photos by Uriah Carpenter. 

Welcome Back, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese

More than 7 months after suffering a voluntary recall of their Les Freres, Petit Frere and Petit Frere with Truffle cheeses, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo, Wisconsin is back in business this week, resulting in a collective cheer of “whoo-hoo!” from mozzarella lovers everywhere.

Crave Brothers Farmstead Rope, Fresh Mozzarella Logs, Fresh Mozzarella Balls, and their many fresh mozzarella balls in brine – including my favorite, Marinated Ciliegine – are back in stores. As I stocked the shelves at Metcalfe’s Market Hilldale this afternoon (where I work as the specialty cheese manager), customers stopped and put packages of the cheese in their carts before I could even get them onto the shelf. I’m thinking I’m going to have to re-order before the weekend.

While the family has remained understandably quiet since the plant shut down in July, the industry has rallied around the Craves with virtual hugs, supportive emails and note cards, wishing them a full recovery and healthy road to get back on their feet. This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted on their website that “this outbreak appears to be over” and the Craves posted a simple “We’re making Cheese!” on their website.

So here’s a hearty welcome back to Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese (insert giant hug here). We sure missed you guys.

Check it: 10 Wisconsin Cheeses to Try in 2013

With just 3-1/2 days between us and the descent of the New Year’s Eve Blingy Ball, we bloggers have started writing end-of-the-year top 10 lists and “best of” posts. Between now and Dec. 31, you’re likely to be subjected to such stories as the 10 best cupcake shops in Chicago, the 10 best photos of my cat, and why artichokes were named THE food of 2012.

Not me. I’d rather look forward and see what our innovative Wisconsin cheesemakers are cooking up. That means I’ve set my sights on THE 10 “must-try” Wisconsin cheeses of 2013. Buckle up. Here we go.

Blurry photo courtesy of Jeanne’s iphone,
prior to consuming entire tub at one sitting.

1. Martha’s Pimento Cheese
My, how good humble pie tastes. After mocking Bon Appétit on this very blog almost exactly one year ago for naming pimento cheese as one of the top food trends of 2011, here I am, naming Martha’s Pimento Cheese as my No. 1 cheese to try for 2013. Dammit. I hate it when I’m wrong. But this cheese is so good, and this cheesemaker is so sweet, that I am nearly giddy to point out the error of my ways.

In fact (the following sentence is more effective if you read it using your best southern accent), we can thank the great city of Tyler, Texas for sending us Ms. Martha Davis Kipcak and her recipe for good ol’ Martha’s Pimento Cheese (stop Southern accent here). Showcasing the evolution of decades, even generations of pimento cheese-eating and pimento cheese-making, Martha combines aged Wisconsin Cheddar, diced peppers, mayonnaise (and in her Jalapeno version, jalapeno peppers sourced locally from Hmong farmers at Fondy Farm and youth gardeners of Alice’s Garden in Milwaukee) to make the best cheese-based concoction I’ve ever tried.

Currently sold only in Milwaukee at Larry’s Market, Glorioso’s, Beans & Barley and Clock Shadow Creamery (where Martha, a Regional Governor for Slow Food USA, makes it in small batches), this is my new favorite cheese for 2013. I am on a mission to get every Madison specialty food store to carry it so I can personally spread it on every cracker at every party I host in the New Year. Yes, Fromagination, Metcalfe’s, Barriques and others – that means I’m coming for you. Save yourself from my lobbying by filling out the Retail Request Form at and let me know when you’re carrying Martha’s Pimento Cheese. I’ll be there with my checkbook.

2. The Fawn
A new cheese distributed by Chris Gentine & Company at the Artisan Cheese Exchange in Sheboygan is turning heads. The Fawn, made in 22-pound bandaged and waxed daisy wheels by Kerry Henning at Henning’s Cheese in Kiel, first got my attention when it took a second in its category at this year’s American Cheese Society competition. Then, last month, it captured a silver medal at the World Cheese Awards in London. While this naturally mellow Cheddar cheese will likely hit the West Coast first, (Chris says they received an order recently from a distributor in California for multiple daisies), it should only be a matter of time before it’s available locally. An excellent example of what I call “sweet Wisconsin Cheddar”, this one is a winner.

3. Petit Frère with Truffles

In another “please kick me now” move, I declined an offer this summer from the fine folks at Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese to try their new specialty cheese, Petit Frère with Truffles. Being the corn-fed, meat-and-potatoes-farm-girl that I am, truffles, in general, are not high on my flavor list. (Yes, I know I am aware this is not normal.)

So when the cheese won First Place in the Flavored Cheese Category at the 2012 American Cheese Society in August, I of course changed my mind and wanted to try it right away. The problem then – like many award-winning cheeses – is that the supply was limited. While it’s still hard to find this cheese, it is slowly coming on the market here in Wisconsin, and is worth seeking out. A luxurious, rind-washed semi-soft beauty, it is made in small batches and cave-aged on the Crave farm in Waterloo.

4. La Pinta
Here’s a quick history test for you: what three ships did Christopher Columbus sail with when “discovering” the New World? That’s right, it was the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Meaning “painted” or “spot” or “marked” in Spanish, La Pinta is the new name of a new cheese from Cesar’s Cheese, made at Sassy Cow Creamery in – you guessed it – Columbus, Wis. Cesar and his wife Heydi, chose the name to reflect the spots on the Holstein cows that produce the milk for this Mexican Manchego-style cheese. (In Spain, Manchego is made from sheep’s milk, but in Mexico – Cesar & Heydi’s home country – it is made using cow’s milk). Look for Cesar’s beautiful wheels of La Pinta – marked in style with the traditional zig-zaggy rind – to hit the market in 2013. A preview I tasted this fall knocked me out. And I’m thinking it’s only going to get better.

5. Little Mountain
Those of who you were lucky enough to score tickets to this year’s Meet the Cheesemaker Gala at the Monona Terrace may have stopped by fourth generation cheesemaker Chris Roelli’s table and tasted his newest creation, Little Mountain. An Alpine-style cheese, Little Mountain from Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg is, hands down, one of the best new Wisconsin cheeses that will hit the market in 2013. Firm and nutty, it boasts the pineapple notes of Pleasant Ridge Reserve and the lasting sweet finish of cave-aged Swiss Gruyere. Look for this new American Original in the coming year.

6. Edun

This fall, Red Barn Family Farms introduced Edun, a New Zealand-style raw milk cheddar. The cheese joins an award-winning family of cheddars from owners Ted & Paula Homan. You may recall another Red Barn cheddar – Heritage Weiss – swept its category with Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at the 2011 U.S. Cheese Championship.

Edun, while still in the cheddar category, has a richer, more buttery taste and is made with raw milk, raw cream and vegetable rennet. It’s crafted in small batches at Willow Creek Creamery in Wisconsin, and is made in blocks using milk from seven family farms, each audited at least annually for treating cows humanely. Known as the “Red Barn Rules,” the system was developed by owner and veterinarian Dr. Terry Homan to make sure farmers know each cow by name, not just by number. Read about each of the Red Barn Family dairy farmers here.

7. PastureLand Greek Style Yogurt
Okay, so it’s not a cheese, but this new pasture-grazed, non-homogenized Greek Style Yogurt is worthy of making any “best of”list for 2013. Look for it come spring, when the dairy farmers of the new Wisconsin-based PastureLand cooperative will start making it again from the milk of pastured cows. Made with whole milk, the yogurt naturally separates into an inch of golden cream on the top of each 24-ounce tub, with luscious and thick yogurt underneath. The top inch is thick enough to hold a spoon – as illustrated to the right.

When you hear the name PastureLand, you may think of the former Minnesota-based dairy farm cooperative, that sadly, went out of business. In good news, earlier this year, the five families of the former Edelweiss Graziers Cooperative in southwest Wisconsin bought the PastureLand brand and are continuing the cooperative’s commitment to producing small-batch products with milk from pastured cows. In fact, the yogurt’s naturally golden color stems from carotene found in grass that cows eat. Look for the Greek Style Yogurt and one or two new cheeses – rumor is one may be named “Peace of Pasture” – to come from PastureLand in 2013.

8. Mystery Sheep Cheese
Willi Lehner, Wisconsin’s well-known Swiss-American cheesemaker and owner of Bleu Mont Dairy, is famous for bringing his experience of authentic Alpine cheesemaking to a collection of Wisconsin original cheeses. Always made in small batches, each cheese reflects the mountain tradition of using raw milk from pastured animals. Following a trip to Switzerland earlier this year, Willi is now experimenting and producing various sheep’s milk cheeses, natural and washed-rind. I tried one at the Meet the Cheesemaker Gala in November and it blew me away. When I asked what the name of it was, Willi didn’t know. He hadn’t yet come up with a name, and if history proves correct, he’ll just keep making new cheeses anyway, so naming them is really not that important. Willi’s cheeses are available in specialty cheese shops in the Midwest and at the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison.

9. Timothy Farmhouse Cheddar
When Karen Kelley, co-owner of the hugely successful Kelley Country Creamery, a farmstead ice cream factory near Fond du Lac, emailed me a few weeks ago to tell me the family was making their own Cheddar, I breathed a heavy sigh. Why does every farmstead dairy in this state feel the need to make a boring old Cheddar, I asked myself. And then I tasted it. And now I admit I was wrong. Currently available in both mild and medium – both aged just a matter of weeks or months – Timothy Farmhouse Cheddar is a classic Wisconsin cheddar with a sweet, clean finish and is most worthy to be on this list. Crafted by the current U.S. Champion Cheesemaker, Katie Hedrich, of LaClare Farms, Timothy Farmhouse Cheddar will be available in sharp versions in 2013, as the Kelley family is holding back some wheels for aging. Can’t wait!

10. Duda Gouda
Ten years ago, there were people who had written off super-cheesemaking-couple Tony and Julie Hook as aging cheesemakers who were more interested in retiring than in making new cheeses. Well, I guess the Hooks showed them. Launching more than a dozen new cheeses in the past decade,  Hooks Cheese in Mineral Point has done it again with its Duda Gouda, an aged sheep’s milk Gouda named after Julie’s family nickname. Sweeter and more crumbly than a cow’s milk Gouda, Duda Gouda is different than any other Gouda on the market. It’s worth seeking out.

And there you have it – my top 10 list of Wisconsin cheeses to search for in 2013. Know of other new cheeses coming in the New Year? Leave a comment or drop me a line at Happy new year!

Manure, Milk and Cheese: Crave Brothers Reshaping Wisconsin Dairy

Quick: name the only carbon-negative, family-owned World Dairy Expo farm of the year that’s won 100 awards in 10 years for its farmstead cheeses.

I’ll give you a hint: the cheesemaker has a dry sense of humor, is quick to give all the credit to his wife, and whom, with his brothers, isn’t quite sure where the milking parlor’s light switches are located, because no one has ever switched them to “off.”

If you guessed the Crave Brothers of Waterloo, Wisconsin, then ding ding ding – you’re a winner! Producing two semi-loads of milk, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the Crave’s 1,200 registered Holsteins produce super-fresh, super-rich milk that’s crafted each day into Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese.

From just-right stringy Farmer’s Rope to perfectly-sweet Mascarpone to big-nose Les Freres, the Crave Brothers – specifically cheesemaker/brother George and his wife Debbie – are widely considered to be the folks who paved the way for commercial farmstead cheese factories in the state.

Since 2002, they’ve added on to their original farmstead cheese factory at least three times (frankly, I’ve lost count), been featured on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, hosted 100,000 people over three days at Farm Technology Days, and played host to some of the nation’s best known chefs, retailers and food writers. More importantly, they routinely do it all in style, grace, and occasionally – if George has anything to say about it – a little humor.

At a recent presentation on farmstead dairies in Wisconsin, George gave a stellar talk describing the commitment the Crave Brothers have in crafting “designer” cheeses with consistent, high-quality milk. George is quick to point out that his family operation is not seasonal or grass-fed, and his cheeses do not change with the phases of the moon. Instead, the Craves craft consistent, ultra-high-quality cooking and table cheeses that consistently please customers and judges at cheese competitions. In fact, George will say the question he most gets asked is: “What do you add to your cheese to make it taste so fresh?” George’s one-word answer? “Milk.”

Indeed, the first key to Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheeses is truly the farm’s milk. My favorite representation of that stellar milk, (combined with the second key – the art and science of good cheesemaking) is the farm’s Petit Frere. The cheese is named for George’s “little” brother, Mark, whom at nine years younger, today stands slightly over George at 6 feet, 4 inches (not that George is bitter about it or anything).

Crafted carefully in 8-ounce mini wheels and sold in wooden boxes, Petit Frere is an offshoot of the company’s original Les Freres, made in a larger, 2-1/2 pound wheels.

Perfect for taking to a dinner party because of its small size and attractive packaging, Petit Frere is a labor intensive cheese that carries a big taste and robust odor. Before opening, some might assume it’s a mini Brie, but in only seconds, its odor quickly gives it away. This is a big-nose, or stinky, washed-rind cheese.

After the make process, George says the cheese is flipped three times over two hours, and then taken to a “warm room” to mature for 20 hours. The next day, it goes into a saltwater brine (nature’s original preserver and flavor enhancer), and after two hours is moved into the company’s aging rooms, where it is dipped in a mixture of brevibacterium linens for the next two weeks. Ideal at 60 to 80 days old, it is similar to an Alsatian Munster, but I would consider it an American Original.

While I like it on the younger side, many like it older, even up to 120 days. At this point, when the cheese enters a room, you know it’s there. Or, as George would describe it: “At four months old, this cheese is natural birth control. You let this baby sit out all day and you’re going to be sleeping on the couch.”

George particularly enjoys taking Petit Frere to fancy international food shows, and witnessing persnickety French buyers taste Petit Frere, wrinkle their brows, take a step back, look up again at the Crave Brothers banner, and finally ask George where the cheese is really made, as they can’t believe an American cheesemaker could make such a thing.

“When I tell a French cheese buyer that Petit Frere is an American cheese, and then go on to say it’s made in a little community in Wisconsin called Waterloo, their eyes usually get real big,” George says. “Because as you know, the French aren’t real fond of Waterloo.”

When he’s not making cheese, and not making jokes about making cheese, George works with brothers Charles, Tom and Mark on the farm, making sure all aspects of the 2,000 acre operation are running smoothly. In 2008, the family installed an anaerobic digester to break down cow manure in a process that ultimately produces methane gas. The gas is then burned similar to natural gas, thus generating clean, renewable energy for the farm and nearby community.

The digester also brings added benefits. First, it reduces odor. One of the first things a visitor to the farm notices is a complete lack of that familiar “dairy air” – a pleasant surprise. Second, the digester is capable of producing products the Craves can use on the farm (liquid byproducts are used as fertilizer on farm fields and solid byproducts are used as animal bedding). Third, excess dry material has the capability to be sold as organic potting soil.

“People ask me: what do you make more of, milk or cheese?” George says. “The real answer is our number one product is manure. But because farmers are the ultimate recylclers, we recycle that manure into products we and others can use.” In fact, enough electricity is produced on the Crave farm to not only power the entire farm and cheese factory, but also another 300 homes.

Building a biodigester on the farm is just one step the Craves are taking to be a carbon-negative company. Another goal? Breeding their award-winning, champion Registered Holsteins to be a bit smaller, similar to Jerseys, thus lowering the farm’s overall carbon footprint.

“At the end of the day, we take corn and grain, we put them into a cow, and we get milk from her in return,” George says. “Our goal is to do that as efficiently as we can. And we’re working on that every day.”

Mascarpone: The Other White Cheese

Rich, buttery and sumptuous: Mascarpone cheese was made for summer. Whether used in a dessert, dip or spread, Mascarpone’s creamy white appearance and smooth, thick texture makes it a natural choice for recipes that call for sweet creamy cheese.

Mascarpone originated in the Lombardy region in Italy. It is perhaps best known for its starring role in the traditional Italian dessert, Tiramisu, combining Mascarpone with lady fingers soaked in espresso. But these days, the cheese can be found in a variety of applications, with two Wisconsin companies specializing in making it:

BelGioioso Cheese
In 1990, BelGioioso became the first American company to craft Mascarpone in the United States, and the company now offers three types for various applications. Its Classic Mascarpone is naturally light and blends well with other ingredients. Tiramisu Mascarpone is the company’s flavored version, mixed with real coffee and sugar, while Creme di Mascarpone is sweeter than the classic version. BelGioioso’s Classic Mascarpone won a Best in Class Gold Medal at the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest.

Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese
Fresh and sweeter than its original Italian inspiration, Crave Brothers’ Farmstead cheese is custom-made for desserts. Crafted on the Crave dairy farm, the family’s Mascarpone is sweet and dreamy, with a light, sweet, creamy taste. A multiple award-winner, Crave Brothers’ Mascarpone just won a Best of Class Blue Ribbon at the 2011 American Cheese Society, held August 6 in Montreal.

Earlier this month, I had the amazing fortune to judge the Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese annual recipe contest at the Waterloo Farmer’s Market, and a dish – featuring Mascarpone, of course – took top honors. Created by Deb Dunstan of Deerfield, Wis., Summer Strawberry Delight was inspired by a friend and her fresh strawberry bread. Deb took that thought to a new level, and with carrot cake frosting in mind, added mascarpone to cake batter, reduced the sugar in half, and added chopped strawberries. The result is fantastic. Here’s the recipe:


Creamy Cheese Batter
8 oz. Crave Brothers Mascarpone Cheese at room temperature
¼ cup of white sugar
¼ cup fresh strawberries, finely chopped – or – unsweetened frozen berries, thawed, drained and mashed.

Cream mascarpone cheese and sugar together until smooth.  Stir in strawberries.  Set aside.

Cake Batter
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced – or – unsweetened frozen berries, thawed, drained and chopped

Mix flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the oil, eggs and strawberries. Beat until the dry ingredients are just moist.

Pour into greased and floured 9″ round pan.

Spoon the creamy cheese over the top of the cake batter.  Gently swirl and fold the creamy cheese into the cake ensuring that it does not totally mix in but also gets to the bottom of the pan.

Bake at 350F for 55 – 60 minutes.  It is done when a toothpick comes out clean.  Serve with ice cream or when chilled, sprinkle with powdered sugar and dollop with whipped cream.

For additional recipes featuring Wisconsin Mascarpone, visit and Enjoy!